Summary : A true expedition, our Weddell Sea cruise sets out to explore the range of the Emperor Penguins near Snow Hill Island. We will visit the area via helicopter and see a variety of other birds and penguins including Adélies and Gentoos.
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Your voyage begins where the world drops off. Ushuaia, Argentina, reputed to be the southernmost city on the planet, is located on the far southern tip of South America. Starting in the afternoon, you embark from this small resort town on Tierra del Fuego, nicknamed “The End of the World,” and sail the mountain-fringed Beagle Channel for the remainder of the evening.
Over the next two days on the Drake Passage, you enjoy some of the same experiences encountered by the great polar explorers who first charted these regions: cool salt breezes, rolling seas, maybe even a fin whale spouting up sea spray. After passing the Antarctic Convergence – Antarctica’s natural boundary, formed when north-flowing cold waters collide with warmer sub-Antarctic seas – you are in the circum-Antarctic upwelling zone. Not only does the marine life change, the avian life changes too. Wandering albatrosses, grey-headed albatrosses, black-browed albatrosses, light-mantled sooty albatrosses, cape pigeons, southern fulmars, Wilson’s storm petrels, blue petrels, and Antarctic petrels are a few of the birds you might see.
You may sail into the Weddell Sea via the Antarctic Sound. Here huge tabular icebergs herald your arrival to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. During this part of the cruise, the search is on for emperor penguins. Using both the vessel and helicopters, there’s a good chance you’ll find them. You might also enjoy scenic flights, and if conditions allow, helicopter landings in locations otherwise out of reach this time of year.
Helicopter flights are a true trip changer, and may include:
The west slopes of the Antarctic Sound – The western side of this area is only rarely seen from the air, though the landscape is truly worth the flight: Layered sandstones, lava flows, glaciers, icebergs, and pack-ice extend as far as the eye can see. There are often individual emperor penguins and Adélie penguins on the ice floes, as well as kelp gulls, skuas, and various breeds of petrel. Jagged mountain peaks stab through the snow, and enormous walls of ice lie shattered on the slopes below.
Duse Bay – A soaring helicopter flight may deposit you on a rocky hillock close to an old refuge hut overlooking this bay. There’s still a lot of snow and ice this time of year, but much of the walk in this location is over frost-shattered rock covered with lichen of all shapes and colors.
Seymour Island – This is where the Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901 – 4 wintered under harrowing polar conditions. Sedimentary rock, fossils, and expansive views define this location.
If conditions allow for deeper ventures into the Weddell Sea, Zodiac trips may include:
Devil Island – Home to a large colony of Adélie penguins, this island offers a magnificent vantage point for hikers willing to foot it to the top of the hill. Melting ice sometimes forms a waterfall dropping from the cliffs close to Cape Well-met.
Brown Bluff – Maybe the most scenic location in the entire northern tip of the Antarctic Continent: sheer canyon walls, fallen boulders, beautiful volcanic creations capped with ice. A large Adélie penguin rookery lives here, with gentoo penguins and nesting snow petrels also to be found.
Gourdin Island – Chinstrap, gentoo, and Adélie penguins love this island, which is yet another landing option for your continuing Antarctic adventure.
Esperanza Base – This Argentine research station, which operates year-round and is one of only two civilian settlements in Antarctica, could serve as an alternative landing site.
Helicopters provide an advantage in reaching the emperor penguin colony, but nature makes the rules in Antarctica. If conditions are favourable, you’ll spend the first two days at the penguin rookery. The helicopter operation takes a full day, and the flight duration is approximately 15 minutes. Each helicopter can accommodate 4 – 6 passengers per flight, and the landing site is carefully chosen so that the penguins are not disturbed. Upon arrival to the site, it is about a 45-minute walk to the rookery. Please keep in mind that you are in the world’s most remote area: There are no guarantees. Conditions may change rapidly, which can have a profound impact on the operator's helicopter operations. It is important to understand and respect this. Safety is the greatest concern, and no compromises can be made.
Experience the bird’s-eye-view of Antarctica! The operator's helicopter capability on m/v Ortelius gives you the rare chance to see the famed emperor penguin rookery south of Snow Hill Island, numbering around 4,000 breeding pairs. Heavy ice may prevent entrance to this area from the Weddell Sea, and ice at the rookery itself might break up and start to melt earlier than expected. With this in mind, the aim is to stop the vessel between the Antarctic Sound and James Clark Ross Island, close to the ice edge, and find emperor penguins on their way to open water. The thrilling helicopter flights make this search possible, enabling you to land in locations otherwise inaccessible this early in the season.
If ice conditions are favorable and the route to Snow Hill Island is free of multi-year pack ice, you have the chance for ship-to-shore helicopter transfers to Snow Hill Island (roughly 45 minutes walking distance from the emperor penguin rookery). If successful, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But please remember that nature writes the final itinerary out here: Attempts to reach Snow Hill Island during the voyages of 2012 – 19 did not always succeed. However, in 2013 and three years in a row (2017 – 2019) conditions were favorable to land by helicopter on Snow Hill Island and to visit the emperor penguin rookery.
In the morning, you sail to Deception Island for the last landing of the voyage, either at Pendulum Cove or Whalers Bay. Conditions on the Drake Passage determine the exact time of departure.
Your return voyage is far from lonely. While crossing the Drake, you’re again greeted by the vast array of seabirds remembered from the passage south. But they seem a little more familiar to you now, and you to them.
Every adventure, no matter how grand, must eventually come to an end. It’s now time to disembark in Ushuaia, but with memories that will accompany you wherever your next adventure lies.
Read this itinerary as a guide only; the exact route and program varies according to ice and weather conditions—and the wildlife you encounter. Flexibility is the key to the success of this expedition. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.
Mandatory Travel Insurance:
As a requirement of participation on this expedition, all passengers must purchase travel insurance including medical, accident, and a minimum of $100,000 in repatriation/evacuation insurance. Furthermore, the shipping company strongly recommends obtaining trip cancellation insurance. ExpeditionTrips strongly recommends at least $200,000 Emergency Medical/Evacuation coverage for Antarctic trips which includes coverage for cancellation, trip disruption, baggage and personal property. Other conditions may apply based on pre-existing conditions. ExpeditionTrips can assist U.S. residents with travel protection options.
Please Note: All voyages will operate subject to a minimum of 70 participants.
Space is limited; request at time of booking. This activity is available for highly experienced divers who are familiar with both cold water and dry suit diving (at least 30 dry suit dives). Dive sites will vary from shallow ice diving, diving along a wall, from a beach, or from a Zodiac. Maximum depth is around 65 feet. The combination of sunlight and the often-extraordinary formations of ice cause an overwhelming, ever-changing spectrum of colors with a fantastic variety of shades and brilliance. Diving in Antarctica doesn’t just offer ice, but also interesting marine life, such as kelp walls, sea-snails, crabs, sea butterflies, various Antarctic fish, shrubby horse-tails, jellyfish, sea-hedgehogs, starfish, krill and giant isopods. You might have the possibility of snorkeling or diving with fur seals, leopard seals, and penguins. Participants will dive in groups of eight divers per experienced guide, with a maximum of 24 divers per excursion and a goal of 1-2 different dives per day. Basic equipment such as scuba tanks, compressor, weights and diving essentials are provided but divers must bring their own personal gear, including dry suit with hood and two separate freeze-protected regulators. Participants are required to present their internationally accepted diver certificate, diver's logbook, and a statement from their doctor (less than two years old) that demonstrates they are in a good state of physical health allowing them to scuba dive. Please contact ExpeditionTrips for details.
Pre-scheduled group transfer from the ship to the airport in Ushuaia directly following disembarkation; luggage transfer from pick-up point to the vessel on day of embarkation in Ushuaia; shipboard accommodations; all shore excursions and activities throughout the voyage by Zodiac; program of lectures by noted naturalists and leadership by experienced expedition staff; gear on loan (rubber boots); all meals onboard the ship; snacks, coffee, and tea; all miscellaneous service taxes and port charges throughout the program. Inclusions subject to change without notice.
Any airfare; pre- and post-land arrangements; transfers to the vessel in Ushuaia; polar diving; passport and visa expenses; government arrival and departure taxes; meals ashore; travel insurance, including medical, accident, and repatriation/evacuation insurance (required); baggage, cancellation and personal insurance (strongly recommended); excess baggage charges and all items of a personal nature such as laundry, bar, beverage charges, and telecommunication charges; and gratuities. Fuel surcharge may apply.
PHOTOS: © John Neuschwander, © Erwin Vermeulen, © Oceanwide Expeditions